After a record winter, money flows in the West

BY: Ryan Stuart ILLUSTRATION: Andrea Pearce

Good snow, mild temperatures, and a weak Canadian dollar encouraged near-record crowds at resorts from Banff to Vancouver Island last winter. Examples A and B: Sun Peaks and Whistler recorded more hotel stays than ever before. Right on cue, the good times are bringing big and innovative investments and announcements across the West.

The first came early last ski season with the approval of the master plan for a huge expansion of Hemlock Resort. When completed, the six-phase plan will turn the 350-hectare community hill west of Vancouver into a 6,000-hectare four-season resort.

Then, the province returned a 50-year saga to the news with the approval of an environmental certificate for Brohm Ridge. The mountain between Squamish and Whistler is the focus of the $3.5-billion Garibaldi at Squamish proposal. The four-season resort is contentious in the Sea to Sky corridor and remains a long shot. Ditto for Jumbo Glacier Resort, the sightseeing-ski resort proposed near Panorama. Its own saga continues since the province revoked its environmental assessment certificate after it failed to meet benchmarks for construction. The proponent is challenging the move, adding to its legal fights with First Nations and environmentalists.

A more likely bet for B.C.’s newest resort is Valemount Glacier Destination. In August the province approved the master plan for a resort above the tiny town of Valemount, in eastern B.C., west of Jasper. First-phase plans call for a skeletal lift network accessing 3,000-metre peaks, glaciers, and expansive ridges. The proponents hope to welcome the first skiers in December 2017.

Beyond expansions and approvals, ownership changed, too. Utah-based Pacific Group Resorts bought Vancouver Island’s Mount Washington Alpine Resort. The new owners will bring four-season and snowmaking expertise garnered at their U.S. properties. Over the summer they dumped $2 million on Washington, adding snowmaking, more grooming machines, and a new restaurant.

The biggest news came from Vail Resorts. In a bromance reminiscent of Andre De Grasse and Usain Bolt, the mega-conglomerate bought the mega resort Whistler Blackcomb. The $1.4-billion deal was the largest-ever ski hill buy. The new owners immediately slashed the price of a season pass by half and promised to follow through on a multi-year, $345-million investment plan for WB.

And, finally, Red Mountain launched an innovative crowd-funding campaign, offering up ownership stakes in the Kootenay Resort. Investments of $1,000 to $25,000 include a long list of perks and the ability to privately sell the shares. RED hopes to raise up to $10 million to fund new on-mountain eating options and overnight cabins, among other projects.

This post is also available in: French